Cats Don't Dance is a 1997 American animated musical comedy film distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment and notable as the only fully animated feature produced by Turner Feature Animation.
It was released on January 24, 1997.
This studio was merged during the post-production of "Cats Don't Dance" into Warner Bros. Animation after the merger of Time Warner with Turner Broadcasting System in 1996. Turner Feature Animation had also produced the animated portions of Turner's 1994 film, The Pagemaster.
The film was the directorial debut of former Disney animator Mark Dindal, and stars the voices of Scott Bakula, Jasmine Guy, Matthew Herried, Ashley Peldon, John Rhys-Davies, Kathy Najimy, Don Knotts, Hal Holbrook, Betty Lou Gerson (in her final film role), René Auberjonois, George Kennedy and Dindal.
The film's musical numbers were written by Randy Newman and includes Gene Kelly's contributions as choreographed before his death in 1996. The film was Kelly's final film project which is dedicated to him.
In 1939, Danny, an optimistic cat from Kokomo, Indiana, travels to Hollywood in hopes of starting an acting career there. After meeting a new friend Pudge, a penguin, Danny is selected by agent Farley Wink to feature in a film that is in production at Mammoth Pictures called Li'l Ark Angel, alongside Wink's secretary: a white cat named Sawyer. Upon joining fellow animals; Tilly, Cranston, Frances, and T.W., Danny is dismayed on learning how minor his role is and tries to weasel his way into more time in the spotlight. Danny angers 3-foot-tall Darla Dimple, a popular yet spoiled child actress and star of the film, so she assigns her 36-foot-tall valet Max to intimidate Danny into no longer trying to enlarge his part.
Danny learns from the studio's mascot Wooly the Mammoth, that human actors are normally given more important roles than animals. He longs for the spotlight and tries to make a plan that will encourage humans to provide animal actors with better scenarios, such as by assembling a massive cluster of animals and putting on a musical performance for the humans.
Later, Danny is given arrangement by Darla on how to interest and satisfy audiences. He takes this advice to heart and groups the animals for an audition on the Ark in hopes of attracting the humans' attention. However, Darla, fearing that the animals will jeopardize her spotlight, has Max help her flood the stage with 100,000 gallons of water while L.B. Mammoth, the head of Mammoth Pictures, and Flanagan, the film's director, are giving an interview, getting the animals blamed and fired for the collateral damage. The animals are depressed at being barred from acting in Mammoth Pictures, especially Danny, who was convinced by Darla that she was trying to help the animals. Wooly advises Danny to return to Kokomo. Later that night, everyone is at a diner, upset with Danny for ruining everything for them, while Sawyer sings a song about Danny trying to keep their dreams alive. Tilly overhears Sawyer singing and suggests Sawyer to follow Danny. Sawyer arrives to the bus stop, just seconds after Danny left, finding his hat and to-do list behind.
However, after a comment from the bus driver and seeing Pudge wander the streets, Danny stops the bus and comes up with another plan. He secretly invites Sawyer and the others to the premiere of Lil' Ark Angel. After the screening and a battle with Max that sends him flying away on a Darla Dimple balloon, Danny calls the audience's attention. Upon bringing Sawyer, Wooly, Tilly, Cranston, Pudge, Frances and T.W. backstage to help Danny, the 8 animals put on a musical performance that entertains and impresses the viewers. Meanwhile, Darla tries to sabotage the show by tampering with the set and special effects equipment, but her attempts instead cause her to enhance the performance, injuring herself in the process. At last, she pulls a "Granddaddy of all switches", but overall, it sets off an enormous fireworks finale, making the animals' performance a complete success and the viewers applaud and cheer wildly.
Darla furiously yells at the animals for foiling her plan when her voice is amplified over the theater's sound system due to a boom mic she had been tangled up with, accidentally revealing the truth about the flood incident to the audience, including L.B. and Flanagan. Darla tries to hide her true colors by kissing and hugging Danny, but then again Pudge pulls a lever, and there goes Darla, falling down a trapdoor. L.B. rehires the animals and promotes them as new stars. The animals achieve their dreams for larger roles, Danny and Sawyer admit their feelings for each other. A montage of film poster parodies which put the main animals in the roles of each character (Singin' in the Rain, Casablanca, The Mask, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Witches of Eastwick, Grumpy Old Men, Superman, Beetlejuice, Twister, Batman And Robin, and Free Willy parody) precede the credits. It is shown afterwards that Darla got fired from show business and lost everything: Her mansion, her reputation, etc., and her punishment is work as a janitor. She puts up a "The End" poster on a wall, and it falls down and wraps around her.
- Opening Song: Our Time Has Come
- Danny's Arrival Song (Hollywood)
- Li'l Boat On The Sea
- Animal Jam
- Big and Loud Pt. 1
- Big and Loud Pt. 2
- Tell Me Lies
- Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now
- Our Time Has Come (Reprise)
- Scott Bakula as Danny, an ambitious, optimistically naïve tabby cat who wishes to become a famous Hollywood star.
- Jasmine Guy as Sawyer, a beautiful, but disenchanted white cat secretary of Farley Wink and Danny's love interest. Sawyer eventually supports Danny on him being a successful Hollywood star and reciprocates his feelings towards her at the end of the film. Natalie Cole provides Sawyer's singing voice.
- Matthew Herried as Peabo "Pudge" Pudgemyer, a little penguin and Danny's first friend who looks up to him as a big brother.
- Ashley Peldon as Darla Dimple, the psychotic human child star of Hollywood. She conceals her anger and sinister nature from her fans and superiors through a facade of sweetness and innocence. She is referred to as "America's sweetheart, lover of children and animals!" Darla is an apparent parody of the famous former child star Shirley Temple. Lindsay Ridgeway provides Darla Dimple's singing voice.
- Kathy Najimy as Tilly Hippopotamus, a happy-go-lucky hippopotamus who tries to find the best in every situation. She is a hilarious hippopotamus as hinted out by her giggling and snorting, and by how quickly she introduces lots of people (and fellow animals).
- John Rhys-Davies as Wooly the Mammoth, the aging African Elephant who portrays the mammoth mascot for Mammoth Pictures. He originally came to Hollywood to write and perform music where he acts as a mentor to Danny upon befriending him. Wooly is an obvious parody of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's mascot Leo the Lion, as he wears fake mammoth tusks and a wig, which are placed on him with doing the Mammoth Pictures icon.
- Betty Lou Gerson as Frances Albacore, a cranky, sarcastic, fish who dances with Cranston Goat and always holds a cigarette holder (like Gerson's most popular character Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians).
- Hal Holbrook as Cranston Goat, a cranky elderly goat who surprisingly loves to dance. He is always seen with Frances and they always dance with each other, implying they have feelings towards each other.
- Don Knotts as T.W. Turtle, a nervous and superstitious turtle who always relies on the fortunes from fortune cookies. He originally came to Hollywood hoping to be an Errol Flynn-type star. Rick Logan provides T.W.'s singing voice.
- George Kennedy as L.B. Mammoth, the human head of Mammoth Studios. His secret of success when asked by anyone is "Simple, it's Dimple!"
- René Auberjonois as Flanagan, the human film director of Li'l Ark Angel who is constantly kissing up to both Darla and L.B.
- Mark Dindal as Max, Darla's enormous valet who obeys Darla's every command and will not hesitate to punish anyone who crosses her. He serves as the direct force that Darla physically lacks as a child.
- Frank Welker as Farley Wink, a human agent for animals and Sawyer's boss, who is a blabber-mouth and talks fast. He thinks Sawyer is cute despite the fact that she dislikes him.
- David Johansen as Bus Driver, a man whose insults towards the animals getting fired from Mammoth Studios inspire Danny with his last plan to give the animals their long-awaited stardom.
- Dee Bradley Baker as Kong, a gorilla whose only appearance is while Danny and Sawyer are going to the set of Li'l Ark Angel at Mammoth Studios. Dee also voices incidental voices such as the Mammoth Studios guide tour.
- Tony Pope as Alligator
- Peter Renaday as Narrator
"Cats Don't Dance" was launched in 1993 as a vehicle for Michael Jackson, who would produce, star and be a consultant in the music and choreography. It would have been a hybrid live-action/CGI film. The film was ultimately made without Jackson's involvement.
In its earlier stages, the film concerned less anthropomorphic stray cats that live among the sets and studio backlots. At one point, David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. composed songs for the film before Randy Newman was hired.
At that point the core team of filmmakers was assembled and it was time to begin casting the roles.
As is the tradition in animation, the voice actors are videotaped as they record the voices of their characters; this enables the animators to use specific body language from each of the actors to lend dimension to their characterizations.
Scott Bakula (who previously starred in the series "Quantum Leap") was cast as Danny. Paul Gertz explains, "People will be very surprised when they hear Danny and realize that it's Scott's voice doing all that singing. Scott had a successful career starring on Broadway before he began working in television and film. He's a very experienced singer and dancer, and he was a natural choice for Danny."
Sawyer, Danny's verbal sparring partner (and eventually his lady love) is voiced by Jasmine Guy, who became known to television viewers as snooty Whitley Gilbert on the hit series "A Different World."
Sawyer's singing voice is provided by recording diva Natalie Cole. "There was something special about working with Natalie, who's a wonderful talent on her own, and whose father, Nat, was a part of Hollywood's fabulous past," says David Kirschner. "Somehow I think it shows up in her interpretation of the music; there is a classic charm and romance to it."
Other character voices were provided by such talents as George Kennedy, Hal Holbrook, Rene Auberjonois, John Rhys-Davies, Kathy Najimy, Betty Lou Gerson (the voice of the animated Cruella DeVil) and Don Knotts.
Kirschner said, "Many of these actors have worked in animation before, and many others have done radio drama, which has trained them in using every expressive nuance in their voices. We wanted each character to be an individual -- to sound as if they looked, moved and acted a certain way."
The scheming star Darla Dimple was voiced by nine-year-old Ashley Peldon (who has herself been acting since her toddler days and is most recently seen in the acclaimed live-action drama "The Crucible"). The character Darla Dimple was a name parody of then child star Shirley Temple. There's a possibly they're poking fun at her last name from her film Dimples.
The voice casting of the cute penguin Pudge is its own version of the classic Hollywood story, recalls Mark Dindal. "A group of animators was eating lunch together in an outdoor cafe one day and a little boy came over to ask us for directions. Someone answered him and he walked away. At that same moment, another animator blurted, `That's Pudge exactly!,' and we all realized it was true. So we rushed after him and asked if he'd ever acted -- which he hadn't -- and if he'd like to -- which he would -- and the rest is moviemaking history. Little Matthew Herried became a terrific voice for Pudge."
During production, management at Turner Feature Animation changed repeatedly and each head that came in attempted to take drastic revisions, including updating the setting to the 1950s rock-and-roll era.
Director Mark Dindal said, "It's pretty hard to try and keep what you have finished so far, and then suddenly transition into a different period of time or introduce a different character or have a completely different ending that doesn't seem to fit the beginning you have."
Dindal's portrayal of Max was initially a scratch track and was never intended to be heard on the film. Dindal wanted Max to be voiced by a professional actor, but as the film started running out of money, he kept his own vocals in.
During the animation on "Cats Don't Dance," Randy Newman was creating songs that gently poked fun at the idealism of the `30s movie hopeful while capturing the melodic, danceable sound that has made so many of those songs into classics.
According to Production PhotoMuses Mark Dindal, "One of the things that stuck in my mind after we spoke with people who'd been part of Hollywood's Golden Age was the number of times they described an effect or stunt that they had never done before. They said, `We just did it, and if it worked, we left it.
We're more analytical about film today -- we have more history to look back on, and the cost of making movies is so high that it leaves less room for experimentation. But we're still trying to push the boundaries of the possible, and some of that pioneering, risk-taking outlook is still what makes today's movies great.
I like to think that we've kind of tipped our hats to the best of both worlds with Cats Don't Dance -- it's an homage to the past, but created with the talents of the present and the technology of the future. And the message -- giving everyone a chance to be his or her best by pursuing what they truly love -- is timeless."
"Cats Don't Dance" became a casualty of the Turner/Time Warner merger: it received a traditional theatrical release in 1997, but without fanfare and did not draw an audience.
The film's total domestic theatrical gross was $3,566,637 against its $32 million production budget. Director Mark Dindal was frustrated with Warner over the lack of advertising and the failed marketing campaign.
"Cats Don't Dance" received a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 16 reviews.
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars, saying it "lacks the strong plotting and vividly defined characters typical of Disney movies" & described it as "an animated version of an old Hollywood musical."
Peter Stack from the San Francisco Chronicle said, "The G-rated cartoon is packed with appealing characters and crafty production numbers."